11.13 Lawyer-Client Conflicts
Lawyer-client conflicts are addressed in the Code of Conduct, Rules 3.4-12 to 3.4-14. A lawyer may have a personal or economic interest (other than payment of reasonable fees) that conflicts with the client’s interest and impacts the lawyer’s ability to provide unbiased counsel. A lawyer’s personal circumstances may at times create a risk that the lawyer will obtain an improper advantage or benefit at the client’s expense or to the client’s detriment, especially in a business context. Lawyers have access to clients’ confidential information and cannot use that information for their own benefit. Lawyers must carefully consider their ethical obligations when they, or those related to them, are considering a business transaction of any kind with a client.
Conflicts may also arise when a lawyer’s personal relationships with clients or others affect their representation of the client. Lawyers may be disqualified from acting where the personal
relationship with a client, such as a family member, creates the risk that the lawyer will lose objectivity and will not discharge duties owed to the court or to uphold the administration of justice.
A lawyer should not continue to represent a client in a court proceeding where the lawyer has to request the court’s indulgence to correct an error the lawyer has made. The proper procedure is to report the error to the Alberta Lawyers Insurance Association (“ALIA”) and get their instructions on how to proceed. You are in a potential conflict if you are trying to represent a client’s interests while also protecting yourself from a potential negligence claim.
If a conflict arises in a court or tribunal setting in which you are required to withdraw your services, be sure to follow the procedures governing withdrawal from the process.
Rule 3.4-14 addresses a different form of conflict—where a family member of the lawyer is acting for an opposing party in a dispute. This situation is prohibited and is not curable by consent.
However, where a family member is acting for a party who is in a conflict or potential conflict without being an opposing party in a dispute, a lawyer may act, provided that the client consents.
For more information, see Practice Pro's (Ontario) document: Managing Conflict of Interest Situations - Appendix 2 Checklist to Identify Conflicts Involving Lawyer's Personal Interest (pages 23-24).
See Practice Pro's document: Beware of the Dangers of Acting for Family and Friends.